The Great Redwood Myth

Welsh folk lore has it that our current structure of 22 ‘unitary’ local authorities was imposed on a reluctant Welsh nation in 1994 by the much famed pantomime villain John Redwood. Given the Redwood connection, our local government structure must have been driven by an ideology contrary to Welsh values and the quicker we do away with it the better – so the argument goes. 

The only problem of this version of events is that it is contrary to the historical facts. In 1974 the original structure of Welsh local government: 181 counties, county boroughs and districts, was reorganised into 37 districts and 8 counties.

In 1990 the Wales Labour Party published its proposals for further reform which were that there should be 20-24 unitary authorities alongside a new Welsh Assembly. Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats had similar proposals. 

The Tory Secretary of State for Wales between 1990 and 1993 was David Hunt. When Hunt published a Green Paper and then a White Paper on the creation of unitary local authorities he was building on an existing consensus among the political parties of Wales. Hunt set the course for a further reorganisation of local government because that is what his Tory colleagues in England and Scotland were doing. The John Major Government was meddling in local government structures because that is what governments do when they lose all other sense of purpose.

 

Far from being an initiator of local government reorganisation, when John Redwood became Secretary of State in 1993 he inherited a firm policy commitment embodied in a published White Paper and a draft Bill already approved by the British Cabinet. His reaction to this inheritance from his predecessor was that sort of bored, languid disdain which characterised his whole tenancy at the Welsh Office.

 

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